New Delhi: Just take a moment and put yourself in Dinesh Karthik's shoes. You walk in a precarious situation with the match hanging in the balance. India need 34 off 12 balls. You know you need to swing from ball one to win it for India. But you may feel nerves getting the better of you especially watching Vijay Shankar getting bogged down under pressure. But if you are Karthik, you have faced this situation a zillion times. At Tamil Nadu, in IPL and recently for India in one of the chases in the Nidahas tournament. There is visibly no tension on his face, his temples seemed relaxed under the veil of the helmet and he carries a smile. Then it all starts to unfold.
Experience is what made Karthik stay relaxed in such a crunch situation. Being experienced also helps you become aware and it also aids your guesswork. India skipper Rohit Sharma too admitted to the fact that he held back Karthik because of his experience of finishing games. "Very happy to see Dinesh doing what he did, he didn't get much game time until now, but he showed his power. We held him back because of his finishing ability and his experience. And it paid off. I always had a lot of faith in our batting group and we were confident after keeping them to a par score," Rohit said.
Against Rubel on Sunday, Karthik's anticipation against the bowler helped him to scale that tricky chase. Let us go through the penultimate over from ball one. With the wicket slightly on the slower side, he knew Rubel will have to bowl up and in the blockhole. Karthik stood out of the crease and bunted a low full toss over long-on fence for a six. The idea was to make sure the ball met the best part of the bat. There was no need of employing a rash approach. Just proper cricket batting. Anyway, next ball, Karthik again picked a half volley and chipped it between long-on and midwicket for a four.
This is a time when you can tend to become overly excited but Karthik is still flashing that smile of his walking on the side with the swagger. Third ball, Rubel lands another fuller delivery searching for a yorker. Karthik opens up a bit and flicks it through the line over square-leg fence for a six. India had already collected 16 runs in 3 balls and now it was just a matter of keep striking. Karthik misses the next ball but he knew the only way to glory was to keep hitting and finding boundaries. This is all guesswork. He knows Rubel will hit the deck now so Karthik jumped out and flat bats it down the ground to take a double. And as expected, he knows Rubel has no option but to aim a wide block-hole ball to save himself. So, cleverly he moves his back-leg out towards leg just to dodge him. Actually, he wants him to bowl wide of off. As soon as he releases the ball, Karthik shuffles deep and across to scoop it over fine-leg for a boundary.
"It was not that easy to bat there. The way Musftazur bowled... So I just had to go out there and hit the ball hard. I have been practicing keeping a good base and hitting through the line and luckily it came out well.," said Karthik after winning the man-of-match trophy.
But that wasn't that. It was simply not just finding juicy balls in his area. It was also to do with making the best of the opportunity he got as a middle-order contender. In the last over, India needed 12 off six balls. Having got just 2 balls to play in the final over, it had to be a filmy script in which the hero overcomes tough times to announce himself. Karthik played that role superbly. With Shankar firing blanks, Karthik did not show nerves and walked up to Shankar to calm his statemate down. Thankfully after a wide and a miss, Karthik got on strike. But Soumya Sarkar bowled a perfect yorker, forcing him to play a single. Shankar gets back on strike and this time he churns out a welcome boundary for India through the third man. Next ball, he holes out to long-on. Karthik is back on strike and India need 5 off just 1 ball. Quite Lagaan-ish right? Aamir Khan too needing a six to see his side sail through.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi177) March 18, 2018
Anticipation, again. Karthik is not standing deep in the crease and waits for Sarkar to bowl wide of off. It's a safe option at that moment for the bowler and perhaps the best one. But Karthik clears his leg a bit and completes the swing with a motion of a painter, like a stroke of a brush completing a perfect picture. The crowd erupts from the seats and Karthik is engulfed in a huddle. He had made 29 off 8 balls. India went berserk and so did the Sri Lankan crowd. It took a while to let the moment sunk in. For Karthik, it was a reward for his struggle for such a long time. "The Indian team is a tough place to get an opportunity, but once you get it, you have to take it. And credit to the backroom staff, they have always supported me and I'm really happy," said Karthik.
A lot of hard work has gone in his revival as a batsman. From technique to mindset, he has been rebooted. All this clean hitting is a result of fine technical tweaks that has helped his back lift to come down in a straight motion. Earlier, it used to come down from slips and his off-side play suffered. Then he went and worked with Mumbai player Abhishek Nayar to master the art of batting in crunch situations or simply how to keep mentally strong. While he must be proud of what he has done for India at 32, Nayar and Co will be happy to see their ward deliver. And as far Virat Kohli and Co are concerned, they certainly seem to have found the right contender for the middle-order spot around MS Dhoni.